Marajó Pottery

Marajó island, located near the mouth of the Brazilian Amazon River, is the largest marine-fluvial island in the world (approximately 50,000 square kilometers). It was the home of an ancient Indian culture known as the Marajóara who produced some of the most unusual and elegant ceramics ever crafted in the New World. To truly appreciate and understand the significance of the ceramics, something must be known of the geography of Marajó Island as well as the history of the Marajóara:

  1. Geographically, the island is divided in two almost equal regions:
    • The eastern half of the island is characterized by low-lying fields with savannah type flora.
    • The island's western half is covered by primary forest.

  2. Marajó also has two distinct seasons:
    • The very rainy one from January to June, and
    • The very dry one from July to December.

  3. Because of the above, the island is subject to flooding in years of very high rain fall. This fact required the ancient Marajó people to built their houses and ceremonial structures on the tops of impressive mounds. Even today, the island's few roads are elevated three meters to avoid the flooding! Historically, the Marajó were a peaceful agricultural people. Like all Indian tribes of the time and region, they resorted to warfare from time to time; usually to bring new women into the tribe rather than because of disputes over land or hunting areas. However, unlike other Amazon rain forest cultures, the Marajóara interred their dead in an orderly fashion in what can only be called by modern standards, cemeteries.

Apparently to protect their dead from the seasonal inundations, they developed a unique method of caring for their dead. Dead were initially buried and, after sufficient time had elapsed for the skeletons to be cleaned, they were disinterred and placed in a funerary urn. The size of the urn related to the age, sex, and the tribal importance of the deceased. Designs on the urns were totemic and represented clan membership. Originally only three colors were used: Brown, which made the terra cotta pottery at first sight appear to be wood and which comes from soaking the bark of a tree called "Nogueira" in water. Black was obtained from a mixture of crushed charcoal and water; and red from the blooms of a plant called "Urucu".

Recently, while excavating the foundation of a resort hotel, numerous of these long forgotten urns were uncovered. Decedents of the Marajó, in an attempt to recapture the lost glory of their cultural and historical past, now create the beautiful urns offered herein for aesthetic reasons.

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